Third grader Aanya Raychaudhuri has been thinking about the issue of climate change for as long as she can remember, so when she heard about Mountain View's Mayor for a Day youth essay contest, she saw a chance to make a difference in her local community.
"I was really excited about the opportunity to talk to leaders about my point of view, so I felt like I had to try," said Aanya, who attends Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School.
With her essay laying out steps the city should take to address the climate crisis, Aanya is the elementary school winner of the contest and was recognized at a City Council meeting last week, where she led the pledge of allegiance and read her essay.
Dhruv Vijay, an eighth grader at Blach Intermediate School, is the middle school winner and is set to be recognized at an Oct. 26 council meeting.
The contest asked elementary and middle schoolers in Mountain View to write a 500 word essay about what the city would be like if they were mayor for a day.
Dhruv chose to take a practical approach and decided that if he was in charge for a single day, it would make the most sense to bring attention to underappreciated resources that the city already offers.
"I thought it would be pretty cool to see what I would do if I were mayor for a day," Dhruv said. "It was fun to think about."
In his essay, Dhruv wrote that he has lived in Mountain View his whole life and has benefited from its socioeconomic and cultural diversity. As mayor for a day, he said he would focus on highlighting "the resources that Mountain View has that promote this diversity." Among them, he pointed to Mountain View's teen center, community shuttle and affordable housing options.
Aanya's essay focused on steps she would take to help the environment, including creating a raffle where people get tickets by using public transportation, walking or biking. She also advocated for building houses near schools and businesses, as well as near public transportation.
When Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei read the essay submissions, she was impressed by the innovative ideas young people had for improving their city.
"I could just see the passion actually in all of the essays. It was really hard to choose," Kamei said.
Kamei said she created the contest as a way to hear directly from young people and get them involved in local government.
"I thought this would be a really great way to have that engagement in a time when it's been so difficult because of the pandemic," Kamei said.
Although this year the winners are meeting the council members remotely because the city council is still holding virtual meetings, Kamei said she would like to expand the contest in future years.
For Aanya, presenting to the City Council was nerve-wracking at first, but she said she ended up having fun and said she enjoyed the experience.
"It felt really good. I was really, really happy," Aanya said. "I couldn't stop smiling the whole way through. In the end, my mouth kind of hurt from all the smiling."